LeBron and D-Wade to NBA: Be afraid, be very afraid

Posted in Uncategorized on June 1, 2011 by Ethan

It’s no secret that the Miami Heat aren’t exactly the NBA’s most-loved team. In fact, most casual observers just plain despise them. The past year of NBA fandom has blossomed from love to something bordering on obsessing anthropological studying. If such a thing exists. I’ve watched my favorite teams (The Rockets and Nets, for those keeping score at home) flounder and struggle to produce anything resembling an NBA-caliber defense, so once the calendar flipped to April, I was watching the playoffs with a completely unbiased perspective. This included not rooting against the Heat.

 But really, even if you have been this whole time, even if you’re from Cleveland and would rather see LeBron fail than your own child graduate from college (hey, I did that!), it’s hard not to be in complete awe of this team’s performance in the playoffs.

And if you play basketball in the National Association of the sport, it’s really hard not to be completely terrified of this team.

Just look at their opponents’ scores in Heat victories, since the beginning of the Celtics series: 90, 91, 90 (OT), 87, 75, 85, 93 (OT), 80 and 84 in last night’s victory over the Mavericks in Game 1. No team scored more than 91 points in a non-overtime game, no one even approached 100, and you can bet the field goal percentages in those games are downright atrocious.

In short, the defense they’re playing is otherworldly. That all starts with James and Wade, of course, but GM Pat Riley has surrounded his superstars with a couple of lunchpail defenders in Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers. When those four and Chris Bosh are on the floor together, there simply is no better defense lineup in the NBA. When this unit plays together for a couple more years – remember, all of them are 28 and younger – elite NBA teams will be lucky to score 90 on them. They’re that long, that athletic, and they all care that much about defense. Heck, Chalmers has already had a season averaging almost 2 steals a game before James and Bosh took their talents to South Beach.

Of course, none of that sounds more terrifying than, say, the mid-to-late-2000s Pistons, who only won one championship, made it to the Finals one other time, never really dominating anyone. They, couple with the Spurs of the same era, could be singlehandedly responsible for destroying mainstream interest in the NBA. No one cares about basketball when the best teams all win with defense. No one even noticed that the most breathtaking offensive squad since the Showtime Lakers – the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns – were around because they never won anything.

These Heat are different, though. They have something those boring champions never had – superstar allure. Yes, I suppose Tim Duncan is a superstar in the loosest definition of the term: he’s one of the best players of all time. But no one outside of Texas bought his jerseys with any regularity, no road fans bought tickets to their team’s game because “I just GOTTA watch Tim Duncan hit 12-foot bank shots and defend the pick-and-roll!” Bron and Wade have those qualities. They draw fans in, inspire people to watch, inspire the one defining characteristic of engaging sports that the Pistons and Spurs never could – emotion.

What really terrifies the league is what the Heat starting doing against the Celtics less than a month ago, and haven’t stopped since – closing with astonishing regularity and complete ruthlessness. Saying they struggled in those situations in the regular seasons wouldn’t just be putting it lightly, it would be putting it on cirrus clouds, destined to float away. They sucked. Not a single player on the team shot 30 percent in clutch situations, according to a stat I saw on SportsCenter a while ago. I don’t know where I can find it again or I’d give you a more concrete picture, but they were really bad. They had no plan, no go-to guy, and they looked hesitant and scared.

In this playoffs, they’ve figured it out. They need no go-to scorer. The have two. The most terrifying thing about them is that those two have learned to work together more seamlessly than any other duo in the league. They are shockingly unselfish considering how selfishly they acted this summer. Furthermore, they care more about defense than they do about offense, which in the NBA simply doesn’t happen.

The rest of the league is officially on notice. The path to the Larry O’Brien trophy goes through Miami for the foreseeable future, and it seems completely unreachable.

Bank it: study reveals that using the backboard can increase free throw shooting by 20%

Posted in info3pt0 on April 14, 2011 by Ethan

Researchers in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University have found in a study that by practicing bank shots instead of direct shots for free throws, men’s basketball players can increase their shooting accuracy by up to 20 percent.

Dr. Larry Silverberg, the lead researcher in the study, said that, when practiced, the bank shot can be significantly more effective from close range, but the direct shot is more desirable from all angles when the shooter is 15 feet or farther away from the hoop.

The visual representation of the results of Silverberg's study. The red and pink areas are where the backboard is the preferred shot. The blue and green areas are where the direct shot is more effective

However, Silverberg said that this doesn’t mean that veteran, elite basketball players should suddenly start abusing the backboard.

“The bank shot is unique in that it requires some very special training to get good at it,” Silverberg said. “Kids growing up tend to get pretty proficient at the direct shot, and they don’t get the proper training on the bank shot.”

While conducting the millions of simulations of shots from all different angles, speeds and spots on the court, Silverberg said the most promising development was an “aim line,” a V-shaped curve that can be drawn over a backboard to guide bank shots from anywhere on the floor, regardless of the height of the shooter and distance from the hoop.

“The ‘V’ that we found on the bank shot was completely unexpected,” Silverberg said. “The fact that there’s this aim line on the court where the shots always hit was a surprise. It’s not that there aren’t players that know these things – they know it intuitively, but this explains it analytically.”

The usefulness of the aim line, in practice, is to line it up with a vertical pole positioned three inches behind the backboard. Wherever the pole and the aim line intersect, according to the shooter’s perspective, is where the ball should hit the backboard.

The black "V" in the top middle of the backboard is the aim line. Wherever it intersects the dotted vertical line in the center of backboard is the preferred aim point for the shooter.

If a player wants to practice his or her bank shots and doesn’t have a tangible line to aim for, the results of the study show that it’s better to aim low on the backboard and in the middle if shooting from the center of the court, and high and to the side if shooting from a greater angle.

When asked whether the study could be used to help basketball players in the NCAA or NBA improve their free throw shooting, Silverberg said that his study isn’t the key, but practice in general.

“When you talk to different coaches around the country,” he said, “(they say) 20 percent of all shots are made at the free throw, but at practice less than one percent of shots are taken at the free throw line.

“You’d think that coaches would place an emphasis on the free throw considering it’s 20 percent of all the shots being made. When you think about it, it’s kind of absurd.”

Matthew Miller is a graduate assistant in kinesiology at the University of Maryland who teaches intermediate basketball. He said his coaches taught him free throws when he played organized basketball, but doesn’t emphasize it as a teacher.

“Unfortunately, I do not emphasize free throw shooting in my class,” Miller wrote in an e-mail, “and I only teach them to use the backboard on lay-ups.”

Silverberg says he will meet NC State’s new head coach of men’s basketball, Mark Gottfried, and discuss with him this study and others Silverberg has done in his work with dynamics and basketball.

When asked what he would tell Gottfried, Silverberg said, “If you have players that aren’t very good at the free throw, give me a call and I’ll help out. It’s not acceptable to be shooting a 50 percent free throw in college. All of these players need to be shooting at least average, if not better. If they’re not, they ought to be practicing.”

Miller said that Silverberg and his high school coach were cut from the same cloth.

“We always [shot free throws] at the end of practice when our legs were tired to simulate game conditions,” said Miller. “If we made less than 70% of them as a team, then we had to run suicides and then shoot more. If we made less than 70% again, then we ran more. This cycle repeated itself until we made 70% or more or else someone puked from the running.”

Silverberg and his research partners simulated shots from 100 different points on the court. From each spot they performed 40,000 bank shot simulations and 40,000 direct shot simulations – more than one million total simulations.

The study’s results are only valid for men’s basketball because women’s basketball uses smaller balls than the men’s balls used in the simulation.

Silverberg and his research team are expanded on their results in a new study. According to Silverberg, they’re determining if using the aim line will improve the accuracy of bank shots.

Study: Readers’ backgrounds don’t influence perceived credibility

Posted in info3pt0 on March 29, 2011 by Ethan

A student research group in the Philip Merrill School of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park suggests that, in a limited sample, readers’ backgrounds don’t influence how credible they perceive a news story to be.

Researchers Jenna Shulman, Emily Winemiller and Danielle Chazen conducted a survey of six journalism students who rated four stories on their credibility and perceived bias.

The respondents rated the stories on NewsTrust, a news website, founded in 2005 that offers readers a chance to rate stories in various categories such as credibility, bias, trustworthiness and authority. Only registered users can rate stories on the site, but anyone is eligible to register.

A small, generally homogeneous sample

Because of the pool from which the sample was taken, Shulman wasn’t surprised at this result.

“I wasn’t surprised with the results because everyone who participated in the survey was a journalism major,” Shulman said. “Everyone looked more at the content and how the journalist wrote the story and rated it based on good writing, good reporting, good research rather than an average student with a different major just reading it.”

In the study, participants rated their knowledge of a range of topics on a scale from one to five, and disclosed their race, religious backgrounds and education.

The six study participants shared similar education and journalism experience and also had similar backgrounds for the most part. Five participants were white and one was African-American, while five said they were raised Christian or Catholic and remain so, one responded that he was raised agnostic and is now “other.”

Asked why so few of the study’s original sample participants – almost 50 – were counted in the study, Shulman responded that they hadn’t completed both required surveys: one to be taken before reading and rating four different stories, and one to be completed afterwards.

“I think that there wasn’t a lot of communication to get the word out about reviewing the NewsTrust site,” said Shulman. “I think that a lot of people just don’t really have time to do surveys and they weren’t really interested in going through all of the articles and rated them and reviewing them.”

The study’s limited results contradict previous research

Shulman said that if she were to do a follow-up study, she would try to find a broader sample with more varied backgrounds, and ask them to review stories that would trigger more of a response, either positive or negative.

A research group from the University of South Florida performed similar research into credibility in 2007, surveying students from multiple departments in different ethnic demographics.

The USF research group found that females generally found both television and online news more credible than their male counterparts. African-American respondents in the survey found television more credible than Asian Americans, Hispanics and white non-Hispanics.

While Shulman and her co-researchers struggled to diversify their sample, she believes that further research would reveal that ethnic and religious backgrounds shape the way the average news consumer perceives credibility.

The USF study supports her hypothesis, although they didn’t ask the survey respondents to disclose their religious affiliation and upbringing, a key facet of the Maryland group’s focus.

In the ever-shifting landscape of news consumption, all studies become obsolete rather quickly. When the USF study was conducted in 2007, tablets like the iPad, which are now revolutionizing the way news is consumed, hadn’t been invented yet, and information consumed on phones was severely limited compared to today’s technology.

Educational background affects perceived credibility in news consumption

The main frustration with the results, according to Shulman, was the journalism background of the respondents. Since they all are experienced news readers, and in some cases news producers, Shulman said that their answers weren’t typical of the average consumer.

In USF’s study, researchers found that students in different departments had significantly different views on the credibility of news, both television and online.

 

The Greatest Story Never Told – Saigon debuts with a message

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2011 by Ethan

The story of Saigon is well told in hip-hop circles. A native of the Brownsville area in Brooklyn, he starting rapping during his seven-year term in prison. Since he was released in 2000, he’s made his name on socially conscious lyrics, not to mention just phenomenal lyricism. After releasing a few ridiculous mixtapes, he signed with Atlantic and spent the next six years fighting them to put out an album. They never did.Greatest Story Never Told album cover

Sai-giddy slowly faded out of the spotlight until last year, he announced he was releasing an album in February to be produced mainly by Just Blaze. He released a bunch of sick throwaway tracks like this, and the anticipation was pretty palpable around the Internets for the Yardfather’s début.

In his own words, Saigon wanted to leave a legacy with this album. He even alludes to dropping just one and then retiring more than once on the actual album. Really, he wanted to make the 2011 version of Illmatic. Which is admirable, and he actually did a pretty good impression.

You see, Illmatic‘s brilliance lied in the way Nas told the stories of the ghetto, painting by far the most detailed, seamless portrait of growing up a young black male in the projects. No one had ever accomplished this before him, and since, many have tried and few have matched up. Saigon, while among the more admirable of those efforts, still doesn’t match up with Nas’ masterpiece.

Saigon and Just Blaze really tag team this album, as it’s designed to flow from song to song as if Just is a DJ in the club flipping tracks. At times, the key changes and cadence shifts are awkward for a moment, but its effect isn’t lost. Furthermore, Saigon crafts the album like an essay about his brain, as each song is like a new stanza with a clearly defined thesis statement, complete with thoughtful transitions and logical progressions in subject matter. Heck, he even has an info paragraph after the traditional minute-long intro, called “The Invitation,” getting help from Q-Tip, of all people.

See, Saigon went to prison for seven years. I mentioned that before. He mentions it a lot. Q-Tip’s help on “The Invitation” comes in the form of calling out names of different prisons (including heavy hitters Riker’s Island, Clinton Correctional and Bayview). Saigon’s lyrical talents immediately jump out on first listen, but his true greatness comes out on the next few listens when you realize just how tight and skillfully crafted his verses are:

Teresea baby daddy got a bad habit of smoking money up
She gettin some strippin paper but saved enough for a tummy tuck
Little man hungry as fuck he only one-years-old
But knows he’s unlcuky and such
As he grows he gets bitter now he acts up in class
He curses his teachers out tellin them they can kiss his ass
Soon as he didn’t pass his mama whoopin his ass
His pops is not around the boy is blocked down
(Blocked down) Not even 12 months later
He suckin on 40oz and pissin in elevators
Idolizin the guys with big rides that gettin quick paper
And now he despises the shit-taker
He 13 goin on 26 and a half

While Saigon’s voice doesn’t carry nearly the impact as Nasir’s, his stunning wordsmithery keeps pace with Jay-Z on the next track, my favorite on the album, “Come On Baby.” Just Blaze chooses a great sample, and Saigon and Jigga, while their voices don’t mesh that well, play off each other nicely. Saigon gives Jay props as the G.O.A.T., and Jay-Z comes back with some classic bars: Super rich! Stupid bitches know I’m super viscious / Like, standin over a wounded man with, two biscuits / Let’s get it clear like eucalyptus, if you conflicted / My flow is like the Cuban Missle Crisis / Nigga, my hand missles in priceless.” After all, there’s nothing better than a good “I’m the best” track. Just listen to Rakim on “I Ain’t No Joke.”

(sidenote: have you ever seen anyone more awkward on camera in a music video than Eric B.? I mean, just watch “Don’t Sweat The Technique.” Right? They’re trying so hard not to show him for more than a split second at a time because he just would stop any rap video in its tracks with his awkwardness. Okay, sidenote over.)

 

Clinton County Correctional Facility
Clinton County Correctional Facility, Dannemora, NY

 

 

The next set of songs, or subheading, if you will, is “War.” The tracks “Bring Me Down, Pt. 2” and “Enemies,” feature Saigon talking about his betrayal. He calls out a character from his past who, according to Saigon, took a young Giddy under his wing only to abandon him and send him to prison. The songs are bitter, blunt, and clearly show that Saigon is perfectly willing and capable of holding 18-year-old grudges. “Bring Me Down,” in fact, is the second in a three song series. The best track of the three, in my opinion, is Part 3. That first verse is fire.

After “War” comes “Friends,” in which Saigon spits of both hope and struggle, especially in what is likely the most controversial track of the album, “Preacher.” Saigon exposes preachers who demand a 10 percent donation from their poor congregations: “I’ma come down to ya church man / how much it cost again?…But you insist I give you some ten percent / when I can barely even pay my own rent.”

After a terrific crescendo into the Kanye West-produced “It’s Alright” featuring the soulful Marsha Ambrosius, the album descends into a mating dance with consecutive “please let me have sex with you” jams “Give It To Me” and “What the Lovers Do.” While Saigon is lyrically impressive as always, after nine and a half minutes in a row, songs like that kind of kill the mood in a street anthem. I’m sure he needed those on there to sell to women, but he could have tried to mix them around a little better.

The next to songs are pretty forgetful before Saigon caps off the album with a couple of big names, featuring Bun B on “And the Winner Is” and Black Thought on the bonus track, “Too Long.” These songs tie a neat bow on top of an incredibly solid album.

Ultimately, will this be remembered as the next Illmatic? Doubtful. It’s really good, but it’s not quite as poignant and timely, as Illmatic emerged at a time when crack and the AIDS epidemic were tearing up enormous projects like Queensbridge. The fact is, the world needed Nas, and he delivered with arguably the greatest album of all time. While Saigon needed The Greatest Story Never Told, the public is disinterested and tired of its message, and Saigon is too much of a niche celebrity to have an impact.

However, without trying to contextualize too much, the album is fantastic. Lyrically, it’s one of the best of the past five years, because Saigon is, and has been for a long time, one of the best lyricists in hip-hop. This is just the first time he’s been able to show it on a large scale. More, please.

Verdict: 8.9 out of 10

 

A Review of NewsTrust: The “Next” “Wave” of Journalism

Posted in info3pt0 on February 11, 2011 by Ethan

So for those of you curious as to why this post and the last one have a distinctly different tone than the previous dozens, I’m using this blog as a platform to complete assignments for a journalism class I’m in. I’ll still try to mix some of my usual musings in with these blog postings, but for the most part, more of the following is what you’ll get:

The NewsTrust system – reviewing articles aggregated from many different sources, or produced originally, for credibility – is a fantastic idea in theory. For consumers who have been looking for a news site they can trust to be unbiased, they now have a place to go. By gathering reviews from, when at full strength, dozens if not hundreds of different readers, anyone going to an article can see how credible the author/publication actually is, instead of taking the work as gospel.

This theory is also great news for good journalists. If it catches on, that means no more bloggers getting hundreds more page views because they’re making up stories or poorly sourcing their information. However, and this is a big however, the system is reliant on audiences actually caring about the credibility or bias in the news they’re getting.

Consider this: Fox News is pretty much universally known as a conservative-slanted, immoral news organization that twists quotes and fact to distort its audience’s worldview. Yet despite that incredibly well known reputation, Fox News regularly destroys its competition – CNN and MSNBC – in the ratings. Similarly, blogs like the Gawker network, under which falls Deadspin, Jezebel and Gizmodo, pride themselves on unethical journalistic practices such as publishing rumors and hearsay without confirmation and paying sources for information, and continue to generate more page views than the vast majority of hard news sites.

While the NewsTrust system is a journalist’s dream, I think that’s exactly what it will remain: somewhere that journalists can go to read news and rate credibility, but that the general, average public won’t really pay any attention to.

The “What have you done for me lately?” Media Culture and its effect on the NBA

Posted in info3pt0 on February 3, 2011 by Ethan

Like all sports, the NBA’s popularity is directly influenced by the amount of media coverage it receives. In today’s modern era of Twitter, Facebook, e-mail alerts, Google autocomplete and “The Daily Me,” the nature of media coverage has undergone a huge shift.

It used to be that a group of reporters would cover a team on a daily basis from the newspapers in the area. At Knicks practices, there would be reporters, always male, from The New York Times, the Post, the Daily News, Newsday, and any other number of smaller papers that I’m sure are now out of print.

Now, the usual characters are still there, but there are national media outlets who pop up occasionally, bloggers who take the information these reporters disseminate and analyze it through their own informed view to their readers, and it’s become pretty impossible to differentiate the raw facts from the spin.

Because of the déluge of information that inundates our minds on a daily basis, misreported information, faulty sources, rumors being passed of as fact, and other journalist indiscretions have become more commonplace. We’re used to them. They anger us for a few minutes, then we move on. Kind of like hearing about minor hurricanes in someone else’s state.

The news industry would have its members believe that absolute immediacy – being “first” – matters to the general public. As someone who consistently toes the line between consumer and meta-producer, I’m forced to examine my preferences. Do I follow Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! because he’s a terrific reporter who frequently breaks stories because he’s often “first” or because I trust him? He nailed the Carmelo Anthony trade talks, frequently reporting updates in the negotiations while also warning that nothing was going to get done until ‘Melo agreed to an extension, which was never very likely if he were going to the Nets.

Not everyone can be Woj. He’s likely the best NBA reporter in the business, and he covers the whole league. It probably makes the Nuggets’ beat writers at the Denver Chronicle furious that this guy was pretty much Blake Griffin-ing them, and getting stuff right. It’s one thing if a guy goes to dunk on you. It’s another thing if he does it over and over again, and consistently draws and-ones because he just is so much better than you.

If Woj weren’t frequently “first” though, would I still trust him? You betcha. I don’t care if he isn’t the guy with the scoop. If he reported a huge story “first” every three days about the latest trade rumors, but only got a few right, I would stop following him pretty quickly. That’s why I don’t read Bleacher Report (zing!).

The fact that Twitter has transformed the “in” crowd of the information superhighway hasn’t heightened the importance of being “first.” If anything, it’s lessened it. A simple retweet means I don’t need to follow the guy who breaks the story, just a guy who follows the guy who breaks the story. What I want from the guys I follow is reliability and great writing.

The March to March: Albums to look forward to in the next three months

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 by Ethan

I already addressed some of what’s to come in my 2010 wrap-up post, but the next few months are going to be chock full of so much good new hip-hop, I felt it deserved a long-ish post of it’s own. So without further ado, here are the albums coming up in the next few months, and why you should procure them for a listen by whatever means you normally use.

Talib Kweli – Gutter Rainbows (Jan. 25, digital only): Really, I shouldn’t have to explain why one should listen to a new TalibGutter Rainbows Album Cover album. He’s one of the better MCs in the game, and has been for more than a decade. Kweli is one of the more accessible rappers to listen to because his lyrics are less thuggish and more about social consciousness and empowerment. This album draws its name from the puddles one often finds near sewers and in parking lots that have mini rainbows in them. Pretty lame, I know. Album title notwithstanding, the songs that Kweli has released over the past few months to hype the album have been consistently above average. In fact, almost a third of this album has leaked so far, and aside from the most recent song, I’m On One, it’s been pretty friggin’ good. The best thing about a Talib Kweli album is that no matter how subpar (or awesome, which is more likely) the production on a particular track may be, Kweli’s message always shines through if you open yourself up to listen to it. Not even a month into 2011 and a heavy-hitter releases a full LP? Seems like a great start to the year to me. The one thing this album lacks is an appearance from Mos Def, but as much as we’d all love to fantasize about a Black Star reunion, even for a few tracks on either’s album, it’s not going to happen, so we should just move on (he tells himself, goes into corner, weeps silently). This album will only be released digitally, which means all you iTunes haters need to find a way to get your digital paws on it in some other fashion. We at Str8 Ballin’ don’t condone music piracy, but since it is a hip-hop blog, we respect your crime game even more if you go to prison for it. Just sayin’.

Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told (Feb. 15): I’ve talked too much about Sai-giddy in this space of late, so I’ll just refer you to my archives for why you should pick up this album. Which you totally should, because it’s going to be special.

Kanye West and Jay-Z – Watch the Throne (March 1): Swizz Beats said this album could change the game, and I believe him. ‘Ye rose to fame producing for Hov, then surpassed him (but not his accomplishments) recently in quality of output. The two join forces for what should be an orgy of the battle-rapping, “I’m better/richer than you,” songs that only two multitalented multi-gazillionaires could make. Their first single, H.A.M. (Hard As a Muthaf****), off the collab album is pretty dope, with a beat that rattles around in the sternum. Between the two, they’ve never dropped a below-average album, so there’s no reason to think this will be anything short of great, maybe even better than that. Heck, this might even challenge Tha Carter III, the modern benchmark for album sales, on the charts since the normal Yeezy haters probably don’t have shit to say about Jigga other than “The Nets suck!” Am I going to listen to this album? Yes. Will I review it here for your listening pleasure? Of course. Should the journalist in me ask more difficult self-questions? Probably, but I’m a fickle source and I don’t want to piss myself off with a difficult question. Call me the Jim Gray to my ego’s LeBron.

Raekwon – Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang (March 8): In case you haven’t figured it out yet, March is where the year really picks up. In Week One, the afore-mention album drops. Week Two the floodgates open. We have to start with The Chef, considering he has the track record to assure us of a quality album. Last year, he was a third of Wu-Massacre‘s cast (with Ghostface and Method Man) which was a thoroughly good-not-great album, but I’m going to chalk that up to him not quite fitting with Ghost’s eclectic choices in producers. They work for Ghostface’s stream-of-consciousness style, but Raekwon’s surgical precision requires a similar production style, which was on point for his last solo LP, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2, an appropriate, worth-the-wait follow-up to the legendary Part 1. If the title track, which was released recently, is any indication, this album should be pretty damn solid, and should sate the Wu-appetites of all the Wu-fans out Wu-there.

Lupe Fiasco – Lasers (March 8): Oh Lupe. Lupe, Lupe, Lupe. Here you have an MC who dropped a legen-wait for it-DARY debut album with Food and Liquor, then followed it up one year later with a good album in The Cool. With The Cool, we listened while a preposterously talented lyricist who could dominate any album on his lonesome sold out in the most painful and obvious way. I mean, he featured Matthew Santos on both albums, but there were too many pop hooks, too many mainstream beats, and not enough spotlight on Lupe himself. Since then, nothing. He’s had a few guest spots, he appeared in the dopest commercial ever, even if he got outclassed by KRS-ONE (click on that mutha-effin’ link), but pretty much radio silence. This is supposed to be his big comeback, when he reminds everyone that he can match up rhyme-for-rhyme with any MC out there and win. He even came to UMD a few years ago and blew the roof off Ritchie. I want this album to be great, and I truly believe it can be. My prediction? Unfortunately, it’ll be more The Cool than Food and Liquor. Oh well, when this comes out and probably disappoints me, I’ll probably still be on such a high from Saigon’s album that it won’t even bother me all that much.

Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (March 22): I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Pharoahe Monch in this space before. This is a gross oversight for which I must profusely apologize. Monch is one of my favorite rappers of all time (OF ALL TIME). Here’s his Wikipedia page, if you want to find out more about him, which I highly recommend. He’s only released two solo albums, 1999’s Internal Affairs, which was incredible, and Desire in 2007, which was somehow even more incredible. He uses such a broad variety of samples and flows that it would be foolish of me to predict what this new album will be like, but here’s the first track off of it, to give you a taste. I can confidently tell you, my loyal dozen or so readers, that of all the albums coming out in the first three months, this one offers the greatest upside with the least downside. I see no way this can be a bad album, simply because the man has never made a bad album, maybe not even a bad track. He’s that good, and I will actually (gasp!) pay for this one because I love him so much. Queens stand up!